There is a constant need to elevate Top of the Pops to mythical heights – a programme that could supposedly bring about cultural and political change because ‘acts’ had done a ‘turn’. The power of television to transform and shape our futile existence. And they’re turning up ‘lost footage’ of glam rock and putting it on the news last month – not the fact that Thatcher was going to let Liverpool rot after the mines closed down. Bowie’s better – see. The six o’clock news. You know all those talking heads – it was like Bowie was speaking to me – just me – and all that because he appeared on TOTP. It resonated and reverberated in homes across the country – sparking revolutions in the bedrooms.
They never say that about The Roxy do they?
I remember The Fall on The Roxy – not on TOTP.
Did it alter what I was doing on Scunthorpe streets – probably not – but it was good to see Hit the North on television – okay I admit that TOTP was important – and at times it felt incredible – but it was just performance and further acceptance that bands where dancing to the industry shilling. I was a watcher – a viewer – one of the fifteen million regulars. Waiting with my brother or sister to witness the The Teardrop Explodes or The Stray Cats pound through their tunes and offer a glimpse of decadence and difference. I’m not totally negating its influence – but let’s not rewrite history here. Jimmy Saville played some records once –started presenting a pop programme – was distinctly odd and thankfully fucked off our screens – he was not a ‘national treasure’ nor a purveyor of the underground – The Last Poets did not appear, nor the MC5.
The 1970s was a bleak time – the eighties made it worse. There were teachers in schools who fought on the beaches and Boy George in the living room. There was no ironic post modern twist – life was throwing up some odd alignments back then. Minds were thinking. Was it challenging the system? Unlikely. Not that it vowed to be political or even analytical – it was simple singers and fancy pants [let’s dance, dance, dance] We only had three channels to choose from. It was bound to happen. And of course there were performances that moved me - I can remember appearances from The Jam, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Adam Ant – the list goes on. All etched quickly into young minds. But I forget the disappointment and the horror of the filler and formless bands and singers who tried [and they failed] to entertain us. It seemed like another world – because it was one – but a dull one – in bright knit ware and hairspray.
I was listening to Sister Ray by the Velvet Underground sometime last week or month – this chugging fug of ferocity and feedback and it is clear that ‘DLT’ would never have introduced this – in a throwaway link and a smile at the ‘sisters’ in the house. I didn’t get into The Velvet Underground because of Pan’s People – I think I read about them. We [that’s Paul and me] bought a compilation, a long player in Woolworths. It had on it Run, Run, Run, White Light, White Heat and Beginning to see the Light. It intrigued and it delivered. I guess I’m torn here – I want TOTP full of the freaks and oddities yet have come to realise that this run of the mill programme was never going to change things – it might give you a few ideas.
Sometimes Top of the Pops had a moment – a spark. That glorious performance by New Order when I coveted the keyboards that helped send Blue Monday down the charts. It’s a beautiful performance – all nerves and electro squeals. But it fits into the whole picture. New Order existed outside of all that in the first place. Perhaps I’m doing Bowie a disservice – that arrival of the alien to mainstream houses for some would help shape and form experiences and ideas. But if I’m honest – I remember my granddad just laughing at Culture Club – because it wasn’t threatening, or challenging – it was just a bloke in a dress. Should I have felt liberated as my mum sang along to Karma Chameleon? Probably not.
I think I did when Divine sang Think You’re Man – but that’s different – that is counter cultural and you could sense it. I’m not certain why that ‘found’ footage has got me so wound up – I think it’s because I feel a rush and push and falling back in time. There’s a riot goin’ on – but like the track it’s just silence – being lost in the mawkish and reminiscence of when things were good – looking back instead of letting us push things forward.
Much like the writing in/ on here.
When Simon Reynolds met the World of Twist they said they wanted to build a gulf between the audience and the band. We want superpop back I guess but Bowie’s footage seems so contrived – so obviously different – and listen to the chug chug chug of the song. It grates after a while.
There are so many bands that didn’t play TOTP.
There has never been a revolution here because of television. There has never been a revolution here.
The Fall on The Roxy. It changed nothing.